The Savory Mailbag

Posted in Savor The Flavor on September 3, 2008

It's a brand-new! And in less than one week, we start previewing the brand-new Shards of Alara—and I finally get to start showing off the Alara setting. Speaking of which, I'm very excited that A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara has released! If you're dying for some goodness about the set, get yourself down to your favorite game store or bookstore and ask for it. I had the opportunity to sign copies of it over the weekend at PAX, and met scads and scads of excellent Magic fans. (Jenna Helland and I had a hundred copies to sign. They didn't last long.)

I also got the chance to sign copies of the Shadowmoor Anthology with Jenna and frequent Magic author Will McDermott, and answer some good Vorthosian questions about Shadowmoor, Alara, and the future of the planeswalker novels. (The first of the planeswalker novels, Agents of Artifice by Ari Marmell, features Jace Beleren and a Shards of Alara planeswalker, and releases in February!)

But before we dive into shattered Alara, we must give Lorwyn and Shadowmoor a proper sendoff. I still have a kascrillion emails about those two settings lingering in my inbox, so I wanted to get in there and answer them now, so we can get off on the right foot next week. (Also, Oona promised to swarm my house with her faerie minions to steal my dreams away if I didn't. Even that one where Christopher Walken is the Reaper King and he and I have to take our SATs on a boat in the middle of Puget Sound.) Don't worry, Lorwyn and Shadowmoor will still crop up in Savor the Flavor again after this—they're still (a) plane(s) of the Multiverse.

Speaking of savoring, let's kick off the mailbag with a question about the column name.

Dear Doug Beyer,
When you wrote your "Backwards Through the Looking Glass" article a while ago, were there already plans to someday change Taste the Magic's name to Savor the Flavor?

The name of this column, formerly Taste the Magic, did come from a "What If?" Week stunt way back in March, 2007, wherein I stood in for Matt Cavotta and authored an alternate-reality twist on Taste the Magic. I changed the name just for fun, just as an additional detail that was different-but-reminiscent in that alternate reality, but I did like the name. Over a year later, when the web team was planning to relaunch the site and shuffle up some column names, they decided it was time for Savor the Flavor to cross over into our own reality. It wasn't really planned; the name just sort of stuck.

No word yet on whether the sphinx-planeswalker Serra or that witch Freyalise also made the journey along with the column name. (See the article for more about them.)

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "Concepting Eventide, Part 2":

A djinn gave me a board the other day, which is higly unrelated to the intent of this message.

Don Quixote is gone, and I intend to follow the advice of Cervantes about quelling any desire to raise him with necromancy...

Anyway: beginning the study of Advances in Distributed and Parallel Knowledge Discovery, as well as Multiagent Systems and Artificial Intelligence has led me to some realizations about strategies for optimization.

For a fellow like myself, mining large data sets, I need to be able to access the data in as efficient a manner as possible, and therefore I would hereby like to request that more stories of development, as well as analyses of the art work such as has been presented in the aforementioned article be printed in the style guide (which I seem to have a feeling that you declared you would print for players...)

It is far faster for me to access the depth of your spell database in this way than in playing with the cards themselves, which is going to be necessary in the upcoming download-heavy months; naturally, another individual in a mindset similar to this would also be glad to have this information readily available.

Yours Truly, Deucalion

ps: clarity of telepathy inhibitor lore much appreciated.

I get stuff like this all the time.

So: to your question, Deucalion. We did indeed print the style guide (see above). However, we didn't include development stories along with the setting material in the book. The Planeswalker's Guides are "in-character" setting guides, written as if you were a planeswalker intending to travel to Alara (or wherever) personally, and as such we didn't put in text about the development of the art. There is concept art that you won't be able to see anywhere on the cards or elsewhere, though, so there is definitely a "behind-the-scenes" element. And hey, be sure to play with the cards themselves too! (They give me a cookie whenever I say that. Mmm, oatmeal scotchie.)

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "The Art of Elves":

I simply can't fathom that you missed one of the all time best pieces of Magic art, not to mention one of my favorites; Elvish Archers by Anson Maddocks. The colors, composition and flavors of this piece have always seemed iconic to me.

Thanks for writing in, Scott. Just for you, here's some old-school Magic art you might enjoy.

Elvish Archers art by Anson Maddocks

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "How to Design a Hellion and More":

There is no way in any Hell of any world in the Multiverse that the entire Sliver hive has been described amp; catalogued. Slivers are the ultimate in evolution; far beyond any other; they put puny little Kraj to shame. Imagine what Momir could do with them if ever he laid hands on even one or two specimens.

Also, I do not believe that Rath is their home plane. My theory is that they came from a plane exclusively for them; and on this plane, because of the very nature of their exclusivity of speciation, some have evolved the ability to bestow their benefits to only THIS hive or THAT raiding party, etc.

So you see, the hive, and indeed The Hive, are far, far from complete.

Many people wrote in about my comment that "all the slivers have already been designed." This was a joke—of course there are zillions more potential designs for Sliver cards. We probably won't see slivers for a while, but as Travis points out, slivers will rise again whenever some naïve bio-mage is willing to tamper with the forces of evolution or some well-meaning planeswalker carries unauthorized summoning knowledge into a new plane.

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "The Art of Elves":

If [Welsh "ll"] is so difficult to describe in text, why not give us some kind of sound sample so we can hear it and work on it? If you provide us with the tools, we'll start using it, by the Gods!

Ah, go look at that article again! There's a link in the paragraph where I talk about the "Ll" sound in Welsh, which leads to a Youtube video of it being pronounced. Check it out! Good luck with the elvish tongue.

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "Spark":

Hi Doug,

How can a planeswalker that has been to Lorwyn planeswalk to Shadowmoor? I thought planeswalking is using your memories of a plane to visit it, but technically you do not have memories of Shadowmoor. How would you address this, Doug, or am I misinterpreting the whole planeswalking-thing? Thanks in advance!

With kind regards,

An interesting question, Stijn. Lorwyn and Shadowmoor are two aspects of the same plane, so when a planeswalker travels to Lorwyn or Shadowmoor, he or she is just picking one destination among all the planes in the Blind Eternities. However, it's true that we describe planeswalking (and mana bonds) as using memories of that plane, and Shadowmoor is Lorwyn with almost all its memories wiped clean.

The key is that Lorwyn and Shadowmoor have a number of little correspondences, little mirrored details, that show that they're the same place. Mischievous boggarts became monstrous boggarts. Kinsbaile became Kinscaer. Knolls became dragons. They're different, but they have the same structure. A planeswalker who had visited Lorwyn might have a harder time planeswalking to the plane in its night state, but when she got there, she'd recognize features of it, as the Great Aurora only affects creatures that were there on the plane during the event. The planeswalker could see that the kithkin she was accustomed to had become xenophobic little wall-builders, and could recognize Sygg despite his new penchant for cruel piracy—it's the same world, just with different trappings.

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "Spark":

Recently a strange alien android has been seen walking the streets of Toronto in a black shirt with white writing that says simply: "Psych Ward".

I want to thank everybody for your kind words about the "Spark" article. Monkey here sent me some inspired stream-of-consciousness emails, most of which I can't share on a family site... Anyway, I felt that I had to share a sample. You go, you spark-ignited primate you.

Dear Doug,

I have a question regarding us, the Planeswalkers. My buddy and I were wondering this at the end of Future Sight, when Wizards told us that all the old planeswalkers died off. But wait, I'm still here. I didn't die out nor did any of the other players I know. Essentially what I'm asking is, did that statement cause kind of a hole in the flavor? I mean, what has happened to us as the players after the catastrophe of Time Spiral block?

The events of the Time Spiral block changed the nature of the planeswalker spark, causing planeswalkers throughout the Multiverse to become mortal beings—it didn't literally kill them all. Presumably you and I were mortal to begin with, William, so we probably didn't feel much of a change. Many planeswalkers are still extremely powerful mages with vast networks of knowledge and power, however.

Dear Doug Beyer,
I read an extremely non-heinous story called 'The Changeling' by Sarah Mensinga in the respected comic anthology series "Flight." This particular shiny, precious rock is in the fifth volume.

It's basically about faeries who steal babies and leaves changelings in their places. It's Crib Swap! The ending (which I'm NOT spoiling here) is even cooler, considering the world of faeries you built in LRW/SHM.

There's actually another story in the same volume called 'Worry Dolls' by JP Ahonen in which worry dolls are agents for a boss. Their mission is to invade people's minds (literally) while they sleep and steal their bad dreams and fears. And occasionally, physical possession of the body is permissible. Oona is everywhere.

How universal is Magic, and on how many levels??? Sigh, pride is cool. Keep up the good work. If you're doing the same things as some of these respectable folks (zing!), you must be doing something a-okay.


P.S. A former British MP is named Oona King. Oona is EVERYWHERE.

Awesome! See, this is the cool thing you get when you base fantasy worlds on existing stories. All we wanted was to extend the same kind of feel of that classic folklore, and as a bonus we got all these interconnections with other writers and artists who enjoyed the same source material. I am proud that Magic rubs shoulders both with the deep traditions of classical fantasy and with the new trends in modern "magepunk."

Hey Doug,

I'm a big dwarf fan and I'm really happy to see that dwarves made a small comeback in Eventide. I've always thought that dwarves make good red creatures and can understand the philosophy behind dwarves being white a swell. The four new dwarves are pretty cool.

What has been vexing me ever since Goblin Legionnaire has been printed is white goblins. I guess the lore that the hobgoblins are based on in Eventide explain why THEY are white but how could an otherwise chaotic creature be white? Flavorwise, I think Boros Recruit and Goblin Legionnaire would have been better if they were dwarves.

Since dwarves were brought back into red/white, I really don't understand why the red/white hobgoblins were needed in Eventide. Three of the new dwarves may see play in my dwarf deck but if Rise of the Hobgoblins and Hearthfire Hobgoblin had been dwarves, I would have jumped for joy and found slots for them immediately! Since there are already so many cool goblins around, RotH and HH may find a way into one of my many goblin decks. They are not all that special. Good, maybe even great cards, but not all that special. Wouldn't they have better being dwarves? Or at least more flavorful? Special?

Goblins are cool. Players like them. I like them. That's why you guys print so many. I get that. Dwarves have taken such a long break that now they are back in a color combination they belong in... and GOBLINS! STINKING GOBLINS have to go and steal the dwarven thunder!

I guess what I'm really after here is an explanation why goblins are in white. Could you please explain it to me?

Thank you,

John, you're a passionate case-maker and an asset to dwarves (and dwarf fans) everywhere. I'm not sure anything I can say will convince you that we needed those red-white hobgoblins rather than more Dwarves, but I'll give it a shot.

It was early on in thinking about the Shadowmoor setting that the duergar came up. Duergar are familiar to some gamers from Damp;D, but (as many Damp;D creatures do) they have their roots in the same folklore source material as Lorwyn and Shadowmoor. Part of the motivation to include them was to create a feeling of diversity among the creatures of Eventide. Each enemy-hybrid color combination had a couple of types of creatures (speaking loosely here), and we decided that red-white's would be hobgoblins (also known as "hobs" in some stories), duergars, and some other one-off oddballs as the set required.

We concepted and commissioned art of hobgoblins and duergars without thinking too hard about what their creature types would actually be—maybe they would get new types just for themselves, like the noggles did, or maybe they would fold into existing types. Either way, the motivation was to show a variety of different creatures inside the red-white creature combination—creating a Dwarf revival was not really chief on our minds at the time.

When we did sit down to hash out what their types should be, it seemed obvious that hobgoblins should be Goblins. It would be confusing if they weren't, and plus, red-hybrid Goblins in Eventide could add new cards to existing Goblin tribal decks. The harder puzzle was the duergar. For us, it wasn't a slam-dunk that they have the Dwarf type. Duergars were "dark dwarves" in Damp;D, but Eventide's duergar were misshapen, pale-skinned, beardless creeps who lived in mines. Would people even accept these as Dwarves? Maybe they should be weird Ouphes, or just have the type Duergar, we thought. After considering it, we decided to go ahead and put them into the Dwarf type.

You aren't the only person who's written in as a Dwarf fan, John. I know you guys are out there. There's another prominent fan of dwarves, and he sits at this desk in Magic Ramp;D, and writes a column on Mondays... so yeah, they come up.

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "How to Design a Hellion and More":

Cool article. While reading I was imagining a weird show for kids with a freaky streak. It was funny. The part about designing a Hellion inspired me to do just that... except not on a card. You can see it on Youtube here.

The scaling may seem a little bit off but it's the biggest I could do while keeping its length. Hope you enjoy!


Steve: You have won the Internet.

See? You guys are full of amazing. If YOU have a Magic-related fan video, write in! There's an email link at the bottom of this article. If you don't, whatever. It's casual.

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "Concepting Eventide, Part 1":

I always enjoy an uplifting story about someone finding their dream job. I wish you the best of luck. Though, I am a bit dismayed that Magic will never have a creature angry enough to lash people with human spines. After the 10th Edition Terror art, I thought human spine beatdowns were on the way. I'll have to take solace in the bloodied ghost.

All the best,

Oh! Aaron! You (and other fans of the macabre) are in luck. I did, indeed, say that human spine beatdowns were too gruesome "even for Shadowmoor." But I meant that Shadowmoor, while eerie and benighted, is still too much of a fairytale / storybook world for outright gore. The tone of Shadowmoor was more "Unseelie Court" than "slasher flick." However, I absolutely did not mean that there's no place in Magic for true horror. You mentioned the Terror art—I think Magic art director Jeremy Jarvis sleeps with a Tenth EditionTerror under his pillow at night, he loves it so much. If you, too, enjoy plumbing the depths of the unfeeling savagery of the undead and reveling in the ingestion of the brain-succulent living (and why shouldn't you?) then you are going to love Grixis, one of the Shards of Alara.

Strap in, planeswalkers. The next time you see my name on the byline, we'll be Alara-bound.

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